Update on legislative reforms impacting employers

Employers may remember that back in the pre-COVID world of July 2019, a series of consultation papers was published in quick succession in the final days of Theresa May’s office as Prime Minister. These consultation papers sought views on a wide and varied range of proposals with a potentially significant impact on employers:

Unsurprisingly, with the dawn of the COVID-19 emergency, there has been virtual radio silence on the government’s intentions to progress these reforms, leaving employers uncertain about what may be on the horizon or, alternatively, what may be quietly shelved with little further ado.

There was some expectation that the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021 would shed some light on the government’s plans – however, no such information was forthcoming.

Now, however, the government has published its response to a report published by the Women and Equalities Select Committee: Unequal impact – Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact, which reveals a few details about the government’s continued plans for legislative reform, albeit still with no news on likely timescales.

Key excerpts from the government’s response are as follows:

  • Bringing forward the Employment Bill:

The Government is committed to bringing forward an Employment Bill when parliamentary time allows that will help us build back better. We are clear that any reforms require us to consider the needs of the labour market today, taking into account the impact of the pandemic, including that on women.

  •  There will be a new consultation on making flexible working the default position:

Access to flexible working can be key to ensuring increased participation of some groups who are under-represented in the labour market. The Government wants to make it easier for people to work flexibly and in our manifesto, we committed to further encouraging flexible working by consulting on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.

We will issue that consultation in due course.

  • Extending redundancy protection to mothers on maternity leave and for 6 months thereafter:

It is unacceptable that women still face pregnancy and maternity discrimination and in 2019, the Government announced its intention to extend the redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave. This will extend to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work. This will also apply to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave. We will bring these measures forward as Parliamentary time allows.

  • Response to consultation on SSP reform to be published :

The Health Is Everyone’s Business consultation, published July 2019, set out a number of proposals to reduce ill-health related job loss, including reforming SSP. As part of this consultation the Government sought views on the rate of SSP and the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are disabled or have long-term health conditions to stay in and thrive in work. This included setting out that the Government is minded to extend SSP to those earning below the lower earnings limit, who are not currently eligible for financial support from their employer during a period of sickness absence. There was a good response to the consultation from a range of stakeholders and a response will be issued shortly.

  • Response to consultation on publishing parental leave and pay policies to be published:

In July 2019 the Government consulted on proposals to require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies. The consultation received over 3,500 responses and we will publish the formal response to that consultation in due course.

  • Response to ethnicity pay reporting consultation to be published:

In 2018/2019 the Government consulted on options for employer-level ethnicity pay reporting. Following this, the Government met with businesses and representative organisations to understand the barriers to reporting and to explore what information could be published to allow for meaningful action to be taken.

Following the consultation, we ran a methodology testing exercise with a broad range of businesses to better understand the complexities outlined in the consultation. This highlighted the genuine difficulties in designing a methodology that will produce accurate figures that facilitate analysis, interpretation and meaningful action.

The Government is continuing to analyse this data. We will respond to the Ethnicity Pay Reporting consultation in due course